Punishment for an Apostate

  • بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيْم

    اَلْحَمْدُ لِلّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِيْن،وَالصَّلاۃ وَالسَّلامُ عَلَی النَّبِیِّ الْکَرِيم وَعَلیٰ آله وَاَصْحَابه اَجْمَعِيْن۔

    Punishment for an apostate in the light of the Holy Quran and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

    Indian politics has undergone a remarkable transformation after the parliamentary elections of 2014. Consequently, communal factions of our society have gained momentum. By means of spreading hatred against Islam and Muslims, they have managed to encourage activities that severely disturb communal harmony. So at times, they are vilifying the Islamic madrasas by making provocative statements and sowing the seeds of hatred in the hearts of Hindus against their Muslim brothers by publicising “Love Jihad”, thereby disturbing the peaceful environment of the country. A recent example is from Agra where a notorious organisation has made an immoral attempt at converting poor Muslims into Hinduism by promising them money and other material benefits and they have called this act of theirs as “Ghar Wapsi” i.e. homecoming, because of which there is  fear of the situation getting worse any moment. According to Islamic point of view, changing of religion or apostasy is a severe trouble for the person, one that will ruin him in both the worlds. Therefore I felt the need to explain this terrible sin in the light of the Holy Quran and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) so that common people know about  the grave failures it leads to. Praise be to Allah, it came to the fore that religious conversion among Muslims of Agra was essentially an act of deception, something those Muslims clearly got to know themselves. As a result, these Muslims immediately repented for their sins in front of their real Master, Sustainer and Creator, sought His forgiveness and returned to their religion, Islam. May Allah help them in remaining steadfast in Islam, protect all the Muslims of the world from the wicked plans of enemies of Islam, and help us die as true believers. Towards the end of the article, I have listed few strategies employing which we can save ourselves from this terrible sin and protect our brothers too.

    There is preaching and encouragement for non-Muslims in Islam but, according to Islamic codes and ethics, we cannot convert someone forcefully. However, in case someone turns away from Islam, i.e. becomes an apostate, the person should firstly be encouraged to embrace the religion of Islam again and every possible attempt should be made so that the person once again embraces the religion of Islam and is protected from the eternal chastisement. If a person who has turned away from Islam (an apostate) embraces Islam again, then alongside repenting and seeking Allah’s forgiveness, the person is also required to recite the Kalimah Shahaadah [words of testimony that bear witness to Allah’s oneness and prophethood of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)]. However, in case an apostate is not willing to embrace Islam again then the way traitors of this world (those who conspire against the governments etc.) are hanged to death, similarly the one who has rebelled against Allah will be shown no mercy, and the Islamic jurisdiction will have him executed as decided by commentators, scholars of Hadeeth, jurists, and the respected Ulama, in the light of the Holy Quran, sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and statements of actions of the righteous caliphs. In non-Muslim countries like India, although such an act (of turning away from Islam) cannot be criticised, a Muslim at least should know that the moment a husband turns an apostate it is not allowed for the wife to stay with him, on his parents’ or close relatives’ death he will not be entitled to any inheritance and in case he dies an apostate then his burial prayer too won’t be offered and neither will people seek forgiveness from Allah for him after his death and so on.

    Qur’anic Verses


    Allah has referred to several persons from Prophet Moosa’s (AS) nation Bani Israel (People of Israel) that they had become apostates by worshipping a calf. Allah commanded in relation to those people, “So, turn in repentance to your Creator, and slay yourselves”, (Surah Al-Baqarah, verse No. 54). Explaining this verse the commentators have written that those who had worshipped the calf and had become apostates were, according to the order of Allah, killed by the ones who did not worship the calf. After mentioning the incident involving these people, Allah says in Surah Al-A’raaf, verse No. 152, “That is how we recompense the fabricators.” In the context of this incident of Bani Israel, Allah referred to His steady practice that He punishes or He will punish the apostate in this particular manner only because the Arabic word Najzi implies in both present and future tense. Suffice it to say that in this verse Allah has pronounced His judgement in relation to the one who becomes an apostate. In the light of the Holy Quran and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Ulama of this Ummah have a consensus that in relation to laws related to previous nations as well, when Allah and His apostle (PBUH) state those and do not pass any critical word on them then they will remain applicable to this Ummah in the same way. In this verse Allah has supported the killing of the apostate by calling him a fabricator. Moreover, the first commentator of the Holy Quran, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has clearly ordered for the killing of the person who becomes an apostate.

    With reference to those who are responsible for feuds and killings, Allah says in Surah Al-Maaidah, verse No. 33, “Those who fight against Allah and His Messenger and run about trying to spread disorder on earth, their punishment is no other than that they shall be killed, or be crucified, or their hands and legs be cut off from different sides, or they be kept away from the land (they live in). That is a humiliation for them in this world, and for them there is a great punishment in the Hereafter.” In the light of the statements and the acts of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), scholars have pointed out that this verse is also about those who become apostates. Therefore, the incident wherein Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave admonitory punishment to the people of Akal and Urainah for running away with the camels that belonged to the treasury (meant for common good of all the people) and killing the shepherds has been recorded by Imam Bukhari (RHA) in relation to this very verse. The crushing of deniers of obligatory charity (suppressing the opposition staged by many in relation to paying of obligatory charity) by Abu Bakr Siddique (RA) was carried out within the dictates of this verse only. The turbulence caused by Musailmah the liar also comes under the dictates of “fighting against Allah and His messenger.”


    Sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)


    • Abdullah bin Abbas (RA) narrates that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “Kill the person who turns away from his/her religion (Islam)” (Sahih Bukhari, Tirmidhi, Abu Daud, Ibne Maajah, Musnad Ahmad).
    • Zaid bin Aslam (RA) narrates that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “Sever the head of the person who changes his/her religion (Islam)”, (Mu’atta Imam Maalik).
    • Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) sent Abu Moosa Ash‘ari (RA) as governor of one of the provinces of Yemen and sent Muaadh (RA) as governor of another province of Yemen. Muaadh (RA) went to meet Abu Moosa Ash‘ari (RA). In order to treat Muaadh (RA) with civility Abu  ‘ari (RA) provided a comfortable seating arrangement for him. Before Muaadh (RA) got down he saw a person tied down at Abu Moosa Ash‘ari’s (RA) place. He inquired about the person. Abu Moosa Ash‘ari (RA) replied, “This man was earlier a Jew, he then embraced Islam and then again embraced Judaism.” Abu Moosa Ash‘ari (RA) said, “O Muaadh, sit down.” Muaadh (RA) said, “I will not sit down unless you kill him. This is the verdict pronounced by Allah and His Apostle (PBUH).” Muaadh (RA) said the words thrice. Then it was ordered that the apostate be killed and he was killed,(Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim).
    • Abdullah bin Mas’ud (RA) narrates that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “A Muslim who testifies that Allah alone is to be worshipped and I am His Apostle cannot be killed unless the person commits either of the three, 1) Commits adultery after marriage, 2) the person kills someone for which he/she will be killed, 3) Abandons his/her religion and gets dissociated from the community for which he/she will be killed.” (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Abu Daud, Ibne Maajah, Musnad Ahmad).
    • Uthmaan bin Affaan (RA) narrates that he heard Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) saying, “No Muslim’s killing is allowed but because of three reasons, 1) That the person commits adultery after getting married, 2)The person kills someone, 3) Embraces infidelity after Islam (turns away from Islam) in which case the person will be killed.”, (Nasai, Abu Daud, Musnad Ahmad).
    • Mother of the believers, Aisha (RA) narrates that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “The person who turned away from his religion (Islam) should be killed.”, (Musannaf Abdur Razzaaq).
    • Famous Taba’ee (one who has seen companion(s) of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as a believer and died as a believer) Abu Qalaabah (RHA) stated this Hadeeth in a packed gathering of scholars and jurists held by caliph Umar bin Abul Azeez (RHA) that by Allah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did not kill anyone (or get anyone killed) in his entire life save those found guilty of these three sins- 1) The person who killed someone for no reason would be killed by him (PBUH), 2) The person who committed adultery after marriage would be killed by him (PBUH), 3) The person who turned away from religion and become an apostate would be killed by him (PBUH).

    Suffice it to say that there is not one famous and celebrated book of Hadeeth that does not have the declaration of the Lord of the worlds that speaks of killing the apostate in case he/she does not seek repentance for his act.

    Righteous Caliphs and Killing of Apostate

    Sheikh Jalaaluddin Suyuti (RHA) narrates from Umar Farooq (RA) that when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) died and few people in Madinah turned away from Islam, in the light of Islamic injunction, the caliph of that period Abu Bakr Siddique (RA) stood for their killing. Given the period was exceedingly sensitive, Umar Farooq (RA) was not that prompt with respect to killing of the apostates. However, Abu Bakr Siddique (RA) said to him, “Though Prophet Muhmmad (PBUH) is not alive anymore and revelation has stopped, but I swear by Allah that I will keep fighting them till the time my hand can hold the sword.”, (‘Taarikhul Khulafaa‘, History of the Caliphs).

    After this incident Abu Bakr Siddique (RA) shifted his focus to Musailmah Kazzaab (Musailmah the liar) whom the companions of the Prophet (PBUH) had collectively declared an apostate for he had made a claim to prophethood. So a legion was sent under the command of Khalid bin Waleed (RA) to fight against him. Musailmah Kazzaab was killed by this legion, (FathulBaari).

    Once Abdullah bin Mas’ud (RA) arrested a group of apostates from among the people of Iraq and, in order to seek suggestion with reference to the punishment to be given to them, wrote a letter to Uthman (RA). In his reply, Uthman (RA) wrote that the true religion (Islam) be presented before them, release them if they embrace it again, else have them executed. Similarly, Imam Bukhari (RHA) has written that Ali (RA) got several apostates executed (Sahih Bukhari). These are the acts of those righteous caliphs in relation to whom Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has ordered the entire Muslim Ummah (from its inception till the Day of Judgment) to follow them. He (PBUH) has said, “It is obligatory on you to hold on to my Sunnah and my righteous caliphs’ Sunnah (overall way of life).” During his period of caliphate, Abdullah bin Zubair (RA) got Mukhtar bin AbiUbaid executed for making a claim to prophethood (Fathul Baari).

    Statements of Ulama of Ummah

    In the light of the Holy Quran and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), right from the best of periods (the first Hijrah century) till the contemporary times, majority of Ulama agree that an apostate will be executed in case the person is not willing to seek repentance for his/her sins and return to Islam. In order to make it brief I am only mentioning the opinion of the four Ulama’s:

    Imam Abu Haneefah (RHA)

    Author of the most famous and celebrated work on matters of faith, Egyptian Hanafi scholar Imam Tahaawi (RHA), narrating the viewpoint of Imam Abu Haneefah (RHA) and other Hanafi scholars, writes that the opinion among Ulama in relation to the apostate, varies regarding whether the apostate will be asked to seek repentance (would the person be given an opportunity to seek repentance)? A group of Ulama maintain that it is better if the king/ruler asks the apostate (gives the person the opportunity) to seek repentance for his/her sins. If the apostate does not repent then he/she should be executed. Imam Abu Haneefah (RHA), Imam Abu Yusuf (RHA) and Imam Muhammad (RHA) hold the same opinion. Another group of Ulama maintain that the apostate should not be asked to seek repentance the way once the non-believers of Darul Harb (Place of War) have received the call to Islam then it is not required to call them back to Islam again. If they have not been called to Islam even once then they should be invited to embrace Islam. And asking for repentance is compulsory when a person leaves Islam and trespasses into blasphemy as a result of thoughtlessness or lack of knowledge. As far as that person is concerned who knowingly treads from Islam to infidelity, he/she will be executed and will not be asked to seek repentance for his/her sins. However, in case the person repents before the proceedings carried out by me, I will release him and leave his affairs to Allah (who knows best). (Tahaawi – Kitaab al-Sair).

    Imam Maalik (RHA)

    In relation to the person who turns away from Islam, Imam Maalik (RHA) narrates from Zaid bin Aslam (RA) that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “Execute the person who changed his religion (Islam).” Imam Maalik says that the meaning of this statement of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is that he who left Islam and became a part of the group of apostates and alike, when such a group will be conquered by Muslims they should be executed without asking them to seek repentance for their sins. As regards to those who left Islam and moved towards infidelity, they will be asked to repent and in case if they deny, then they will be executed (Mu’atta Maalik).

    Imam Shaafa’ee (RHA)

    The entire Muslim Ummah agrees that an apostate is neither to be favoured nor a payoff will be taken from him, nor will he/she be left on his/her own unless he/she embraces Islam again or is executed (Kitaabul Am). Famous Shaafa’ee scholar Imam Nawawi (RHA) writes that the entire Islamic community agrees on the execution of an apostate, though there is difference of opinion on whether it is necessary (Waajib) to give him/her an opportunity to repent or is it just recommended (Mustahab) to do it. (Sharah Muslim).

    Imam Ahmad (RHA)

    Famous Hanbali scholar Imam Ibn Qadaamah (RHA) writes that most of the scholars such as Umar (RA), Ali (RA), Ataa (RHA), Imam Nakha’ee (RHA), Imam Maalik (RHA), Imam Thauri (RHA), Imam Auzaaee (RHA) and Imam Ishaaq (RHA) including the Hanafi jurists maintain that an apostate should not be executed without being given an opportunity to repent. One of the statements of Imam Shaafa’ee (RHA) is also along the same lines and Imam Ahmad (RHA), in a different account, has been reported to have said that it is not compulsory but recommended to ask an apostate to repent, and Hasan Basari (RHA) too has asserted the same point because Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has said, “Execute the person who changes his/her religion (Islam).” There is no reference of asking for repentence in that saying of the Prophet (PBUH) (Mughni).

    Suffice it to say that in the light of the Holy Quran, sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and statements and acts of the righteous caliphs, all the commentators, Hadeeth scholars, jurists and Ulama have reached an unanimous decision that an apostate will be executed in case he/she is not willing to repent and embrace Islam again.

    Few strategies to remain protected from this problem

    In order to save ourselves and our brothers from this terrible sin, we should keep our sentiments under control and adopt the following strategies with the required degree of wisdom and insight so that the enemy will not succeed in his wicked plans. In sha Allah these actions/doings will turn out to be beneficial for us and our brothers in our difficult hour.

    1. We should particularly stay connected with the mosques because mosques are not just spaces where Muslims are trained but they are also reflective of Muslim society as mentioned by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), “There are seven types of people who will be kept by Allah under His shade (of grace) on a day when there will be no shade but His. One of those seven is the person whose heart is attached to the mosque.” The first house in the world is Baitullah (House of Allah) situated in the middle of Masjid Al Haram, facing which we offer Namaaz, the most important component of Islam after faith. Before reaching Madinah Munawwarah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) laid the foundation of a mosque at Quba, a little before the city of Madinah. After reaching Madinah Munawwarah, before anything else, the Prophet (PBUH) laid the foundation of a mosque that later got to be known as Masjide Nabawi, a mosque that became a means of Islam’s entry into all the nooks and corners of the world. Therefore, we ourselves should offer daily prayers properly and at the same time, we should make efforts to increase other people’s association with the mosques. I If our connection with the mosque is firm, we will get closer to Allah,  and hopefully In sha Allah, the efforts of enemies of Islam will  be in vain.

    2. We should make sure that the relationship between the respected Ulama and the common people gets stronger because concerning the respected Ulama, Allah has mentioned, “Only those of His slaves fear Allah who are knowledgeable” (Surah Al-Faatir, verse number 28).Today, at the global level, the enemies of Islam are aiming at wiping off the Islamic culture and imposing their own culture on Muslims. Our respected Ulama are stopping them from achieving their objectives which is why the enemies of Islam are trying hard to defame them and are presenting a false image of Islamic madrasas and Ulama before the people so that the strong relationship that exists between the people and Ulama gets weakened. The enemies of Islam will In sha Allah fail miserably in their attempts because from reciting the adhaan (call to prayer) in the ears of the newly born till leading the burial prayers our respected Ulama, in terms of our religious, educational and social guidance, have rendered such services that has benefitted every single Muslim in the course of his/her life.

    3. We should leave no stone unturned for the continued existence of Islamic sites of learning and should strive for the establishment of madrasas in areas or villages deprived of their existence. The remarkable role played by these Islamic sites of learning in relation to the protection and service of the Holy Quran and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), is an unforgettable part of our history. It were none except these Islamic schools of learning that, directly or indirectly, played a significant role in serving the Holy Quran and Hadeeth in myriad ways.

    4. We should be concerned about the religious education of our children who are enrolled in schools and colleges, because these days,  most of the students that graduate from these modern educational institutions  lack religious knowledge, and  are bored of their religion. Therefore authorities associated with Muslim-run universities, colleges and schools are requested not to keep religious education in the curriculum framework just as formality wherein neither the teachers give it any importance nor the students. Instead, considering it as a religious obligation, proper attention should be given to the religious education and training of these students. It is also the responsibility of parents and guardians to remain absolutely attentive to the wellbeing of their children’s faith while opting for a school or college for their education. Until our children are not introduced to religious education how can we possibly protect them from the wicked plans of the enemies of Islam? Verily, we should do everything possible to make our children engineers, doctors and designers but before that we should make them true Muslims. Therefore, alongside giving them essential information in relation to basic components of Islam we must also introduce them to Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) life and Islamic history.

    5. With the required degree of wisdom and understanding, we should keep calling each other to Islam because now that there won’t be another prophet, this immense responsibility of inviting others to Islam and propagating the religion as per our capabilities, is obligatory on each one of us as mentioned by Allah in the Holy Qur’an, “The believers, male and female, are friends to each other. They bid virtue and forbid vice and establish Salah and pay Zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those are the ones whom Allah will bless with mercy” (Surah Taubah, verse No. 71). In this verse Allah has outlined several characteristics of believing men and women out of which the first one is that they bid virtue and forbid vice.

    6.  Wealthy people should allocate a sizeable portion of their donations and financial contributions for the marginalised section of the Muslim community. Alongside making us human beings His delegate, Allah has also bound on us to worship him and obey Him, thereby following His laws and remaining keen on creating a just society. Verily for the accomplishment of this kind of an objective both financial and physical sacrifices are required as mentioned by Allah in the Holy Quran, “You shall never attain righteousness unless you spend from what you love” (Surah Aal-Imran, verse No. 92). Therefore, alongside being watchful of fulfilling the obligation of Zakaat (obligatory charity), we must also strive to spend a portion of our money for the betterment of the marginalised section of the Muslim community. Today if we start paying Zakaat properly, numerous problems of the Muslim community will get solved In sha Allah.

    O Allah! Help us in performing the deeds that please You, protect our Ulama, madrasas and all muslims, wipe out the names of anti-Islamic elements from the pages of existence, and make us die with Imaan in the depth of our hearts, Ameen!

    Mohammad Najeeb Qasmi (www.najeebqasmi.com)

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